09/08/2018 15:29 BST | Updated 09/08/2018 15:29 BST

The Hardest Part Of Parenting: Letting Go As They Move On

My fears are unlikely to abate until she’s settled into her new life

Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

When I became a parent at the relatively tender age of 23, I expected it to be tough. The responsibility of caring for a new life as well as providing for a family of three was daunting to say the least. As our baby girl matured into a toddler, new challenges emerged. Teething, the terrible twos and the growing desire and ability to express her own free-will, were all testing. There were further inevitable changes as her sister arrived on the scene.

When she was seven and her sister was three, their mother and I divorced. I feared major consequences for the girls and for me. I was terrified of losing my role and place in their lives. Thankfully the effects seemed to be minimal. The parting was amicable and we each resolved to maintain an active role in the raising of our kids. Co-parenting for the last 11 years on an equal 50/50 basis has presented occasional difficulties but has generally worked well. 

The hormone-fuelled angst of the teenage years came as expected. As a part-time single dad to two girls I suspect I could have done a better job of being there in the capacity they needed me through this phase. I feel blessed though for the relative triviality of the difficulties it brought. I’m thankful that a balanced and well-adjusted young adult has emerged from from puberty and the other is well on the way to doing so too.

In recent years their mum and I have each remarried, and in my case it has brought two step-siblings onto the scene as well. Further complications were foreseen, but once again these have been minimal. We’ve been lucky to have had it so easy I suppose. The 18 years since I first became a parent have been punctuated with a number of different phases and events. In each instance, and as a mutually supportive and accommodating team, we’ve survived and thrived as dad and daughters. 

The phase I currently find myself in is different. It’s harder. It’s the one I struggled most with in anticipation, and it’s even harder now that it’s actually here.

Daughter number one is leaving home and going to university.

I thought I was ready for the emotional challenge and that she was too. I now find myself doubting this on a daily basis. My parents referred to the corresponding phase in my childhood as akin to bereavement and I don’t think they were exaggerating.

My fears are numerous and varied.

Is she resilient enough to manage on her own? Have I taught her enough to allow her to fend for herself, or did I do too much for her in acts of supposed and well-intended kindness? Have these merely served to make her needy or dependent? Did I give her enough freedom in her childhood to make her effective at judging risk and assessing the character of others? Have I been overly-protective and made her naïve, overly-suspicious or overly-trusting of people she meets?

It’s such a fine line and it’s one that every parent must have trodden as they raised their child as best they could. She’s had the combined input from me, my ex-wife, a loving and supportive wider family and the many others who’ve contributed to raising her (in later years, including two step-parents). She’s hopefully well prepared as a result.

Somehow, that provides little comfort at present.

I’ve become preoccupied by the many ways in which things might go wrong. I picture her running out of money (and resisting the urge to send her more, as I stick with my promise/threat that she’s got to budget and fend for herself). I contemplate her going hungry, or feeling alone, unloved and isolated. I imagine her being ostracised by her new peers, having her stuff stolen, feeling embarrassed, ashamed or isolated by random and unlikely events that I concoct in my imagination.

In the last 18 years I’ve been able to genuinely promise that if she needed me, I’d be there by her side in support. From now on I know that this will be impossible, both logistically but also as the time has really come for her to take on responsibility for herself.

I’m offered reassurances that she’ll be okay, that she’ll thrive and that my fears are unfounded. I’m reminded that she’s been well-raised, a compliment that I begrudgingly accept (for my part in it). My worries aren’t just about her skills and capabilities; what about the outside influences?

When she learned to drive, it was other road-users that presented the clear and present danger. When she became legally old enough to go to bars it was the other people I was concerned about, drunken, aggressive and potentially threatening to her. I know I’m slightly myopic about her faults and frailties, but it’s also the threat from the others that I won’t be there to protect her from. It’s painful. The pain will probably take months to subside. My fears are unlikely to abate until she’s settled into her new life, and has seen out a semester or maybe even her first year.

As I’m reminded often, it may be the end of an era, but it’s also the start of another new and exciting one too. I remind myself that it’s a time for celebration and contented reflection. I’m naturally biased, but I’m extremely proud of my daughter and the young woman she’s become. She can seem insecure and uncertain at times but this belies her natural tendency to get on with things and make the best of every situation.

She’s self-motivated and when faced with a goal, whether academic exams, learning to drive, taking a trip, or practising sports or music, she does so with vigour and drive. She’s amenable, kind, considerate, respectful and devoted to her friends and family. The dramas in her life have been few, and relatively trivial in nature; I’m grateful to her for that. All things considered, as a “finished article” she’s about as ready as I could hope for her to be as she embarks upon the next phase of her life.

I love her dearly, and I know that she knows and believes that. I have never really ceased to think of myself as my parents’ child and I will never stop thinking of her as my little girl, no matter where she goes or what she does.